At a special meeting of the BOE on Jan. 4, the Board of Education approved a facilities plan that will renovate and expand all of the facilities in the district. As of now, the estimated cost is $86 million. In early April, after the architect draws more detailed plans, an exact cost will be determined.
The board voted 5 to 2 to adopt the plan. Mr. Sussman and Mr. Zimmerman were the board members who voted against it. This week's article on this topic will report each board members' rationale for his/her vote.
For the official vote on the plan, Board President Dr. Roy Nelson asked each member individually to cast his/her vote. Some of them had prepared speeches; others did not. The order in which they spoke, as requested by Dr. Nelson, was from the most junior member to the most senior board member.
Following is what they had to say.
(Next week we will give a building by building outline of the approved facilities plan with each one's renovations and additions, along with the estimated costs.)
Mr. Zimmerman did not have a prepared statement, He did speak, however, urging his fellow board members to not so much judge the messenger, but, instead, judge the message. He asked them to consider an alternate plan.
First, I would like to thank everyone for coming out tonight to hear firsthand the long-term plan for the District. It is fitting that the first meeting of the year is dedicated to the future of our school district, our town and most importantly, our children.
The plan is the result of many hours of meetings with community residents, staff, administration and board members. While there will be many in the community who consider the plan "pie in the sky" "too rich"
"a dream" or "a joke," it does represent good faith efforts of a majority of board members.
It is extremely difficult to come before the community and ask for each and every person living in Port to reach into their pockets and pay additional taxes. For me personally it may be OK, but in casting my vote tonight I will be asking each of you for additional tax dollars to make this plan a reality.
On both sides of the aisle arguments both pro and con are easily made. Words like "support education" and "support our children" are contrasted with "too expensive" and "too large." We all too react in a cynical manner to the overuse of these words.
In watching the New Year's Eve celebration, I was personally touched by the comments made in Washington. They dealt with America during the 1900s and the impact the country had on the world. More importantly however was the comment that our country has always represented the ideal that the best is yet to come and that anything is possible.
Our children are exposed to this spirit of endless opportunity and possibilities inside our buildings every day. Education and the demands placed on children, faculty, administration and parents are changing at a faster and faster pace. What was once a dream in 1990 is common place in 2000. What will our expectations be of our school system and children in 10 years? What will they need to learn? Will our facilities help or hinder this development?
The shortage of educational space is a national issue. Whether you have children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces within the Port system or some other school system they are faced with the problem of running out of space. School boards across America are turning to local community residents for financial assistance to solve this shortage.
Tonight we move forward with a plan that addresses these needs.
I openly embrace the future of our district and community and look forward to the endless opportunity this plan creates for our children and town.
Having now made it halfway through my term of office, I have learned a lot about this town. Even having started as a townie, I have learned a lot. I knew when I got elected that this would be a tough time to be on the Board. That there would be a lot of difficult decisions to make. Last year when we spoke of a $75 million plan, even though it did not include the reopening of Salem, I was prepared to support it. Because that is the right thing to do when you are part of a Board.
People have said to me that we should work together as a Board and come up with a common solution. Even as an optimist I don't expect that to happen. And that is very unfortunate when you have people that specialize in nitpicking, innuendo etc.
But I think that the most important points of this plan is it's buildable, it returns to Port neighborhood based elementary schools and while not lavish it will provide the proper environment for our kids for the foreseeable future. As you know, we hit a lot of bumps on the road, we had spoken of the Port North property, we spoke of a new Middle School adjoining Guggenheim....but this is a plan that can get built. That was a plan that could have wound up costing over $100 million dollars.
It will not be easy to get this plan passed. It never is in Port and that is part of what makes Port what it is. We are not a Great Neck or a Manhasset. When the High School was proposed, there was a fight much like we have and we will see. In the end that vote passed by less than 100 votes out of 3000 cast. What would have happened if that school had never been built?
We are indeed in the year 2000 and the Board of Ed has been concerned with the Long Term Plan for two and half years. It is the time to act, we cannot wait any longer, we can't play games. We must work together to get this plan enacted. It won't be easy, it never is to build something.
Last year's budget vote was a warning sign to us all, that we must work together to get this passed. There are no easy solutions. There are no cheap solutions. I would not want to do the wrong plan to save $200 a year in taxes. I don't think any damage to the Port Washington reputation in failing this bond is worth $200 per year. I look at all my friends that have moved into this town and the mold is the same. Young growing families that want a quality education for their kids at an affordable price tag.
I want to believe that our year of being trapped between Heaven and Hell in purgatory will come to a close with our community supporting this plan. This Board has put the effort into evaluating all the other alternatives. It is now time to work together to get this passed. When asked how she would punish her father if he did something wrong my 3 and a half year old said the first thing that would go would be playing football on Sundays right after that came no more School Board meetings. I look forward to the community supporting the work that this Board has done and approving this plan so that our weekly meetings can become a thing of the past! And we can return to being the Board of Education instead of the Board of Facilities!
We have spent a long time getting to where we are tonight and I am elated. Two and a half years ago when I ran for the board it was obvious that the district needed a long-term plan. This is a wonderful plan! It has had input from the community, the stakeholders and the educational professionals. It is based on two essential cornerstones, the educational needs of the children and meaningful population projections.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has worked hard and long on this plan; my fellow board members, the administration and district staff, teachers, the concerned parents and the members of the community.
This plan is not about buildings, not about bricks and mortar. This is about our children and how they are educated. Today, in this district, everywhere you look the spaces in the buildings are inadequate and get in the way of our children's education. Because the classrooms are too small and too few we educate children in hallways and converted closets. The inadequately sized cafeterias force our children to have lunch at 10:40 in the morning, at the high school, to go off campus to eat. Because there isn't enough gym space the children don't get the exercise they need nor the gym time required by the State. Inadequate is not OK. Stuff that should be happening isn't. You have heard what's missing and how the plan meets those needs. With the implementation of this plan the buildings will help us educate our children.
Considering the nearly universal demand on the Port Washington schools to produce excellence in education, why shouldn't the buildings, spaces and classrooms be equal to those demands?
The fastest growing segment of the school age population is children with special needs. Right now there are almost 100 of these students being educated outside of the district. Most are there because we don't have the facilities to care for them in the district. This year's pre-K class has 40 special education students, about 10 percent of next year's kindergarten class. Seventeen of these students are already in special education settings. We need to serve these students just as we serve all of the other students in the District. This plan addresses the educational needs of all of our children.
I recognize the cost of this plan is significant. I know it will create a burden for some members of the community. I wish that it could be otherwise. However, even if we don't add another child to the District we would need a lot of construction and renovation just to adequately meet the needs of those children already enrolled. Ten years from now we anticipate that there will be over 1000 more children in our schools. The Board, the district, the community have the responsibility of providing space for them.
This is a wonderful plan and I am happy to support it!
For many years our school district did not have a long-term facilities plan. For many years, we did not have an annual enrollment projection five years forward at elementary school and ten years at secondary. Three years ago, in response to the beginning of a tide of rising enrollments, we sought to quantify what numbers of students we believe we will need to educate each year from now until the school year 2008-2009. After much study, there seems little doubt that barring unpredictable demographic or economic events, we will see growth greater than 3 percent per year, starting two years ago and continuing until at least the 2008-2009 school year. In that year, will have more than a 30 percent increase in school population over our baseline year of 1998.
At the same time we were trying to get a handle on projected enrollments, we began to ask the question "How do our buildings serve our children and the programs we wish to deliver for them?" The answer was "Not well at all." In every elementary building we found inadequate large group spaces and inadequate small group spaces. Our PEP program, our ESL program, our Reading Support services are making do with inappropriate spaces. In some schools, there is no ability to provide assembly programs due to lack of large group space. In some schools, children are having band practice on the stage in the cafetorium, while other children are having lunch. You can imagine the cacophony. In some schools, children who need occupational or physical therapy are served in whatever classroom was unoccupied at the moment. While these children have a legal right to privacy in the delivery of Special Education services, we continually violate that right simply due to our lack of appropriate facilities. In our middle school we found science labs which had not been renovated for 30 years. Despite the changes in science, and in science instruction over that time period, our labs remain unchanged. Our award winning art program has no display space. Our award winning music program has no practice space. Our sports and physical education facilities are nothing short of appalling, despite (in part because of ) the heavy community use of these spaces.
The inadequacy of our physical plant coupled with the increase in enrollments suggested to us that it was time to develop a plan which would give our district facilities one which we could be proud of; ones that would serve our children for the next 30 years as our current facilities served for the past 30 years. The teachers, administrators and parents of this district along with our architect, volunteers from the community and the members of this Board have worked long and hard to develop such a plan. These are some of the things it contains:
The reopening of an elementary school which has been closed for many years. The Salem School will once again serve the children of Port Washington.
A multipurpose room for every elementary school. This is space which can be used for assemblies and performances, for student and professional concerts and rehearsals, for building large art projects, performing large science experiments and for conducting movement and dance programs.
A suite of offices for guidance counselors, psychologists, occupational and physical therapists and other professionals who serve our students. While we have added these services overtime, our ability to house them has not kept pace with our staffing. The children, parents and professionals who interact in these areas have the right to the dignity of appropriate space.
Proper sized classrooms for ESL, reading and PEP. In these areas, as in others, our programs are successful because they are staffed by high quality dedicated professionals. Appropriate space to store supplies and materials, to instruct students and to meet together and with parents will help them in their important tasks.
A properly sized, dividable gymnasium at each building will allow us to fulfill our mandates for physical education, support our athletic program and meet the needs of the many community organizations which depend upon us.
A middle school which will allow the implementation of a four house structure as our school expands. We cannot keep cramming children into our current middle school. We are contorting our program to fit a facility which fights our efforts every step of the way. Our new middle school at Sousa will have new science labs, new music and art facilities, a new library/media center and will contain athletic facilities which will be a resource to both our students and the community. While our base $86 million bond does not include the approximately $4 million cost of an indoor swimming pool, it is my fervent hope that the farsighted members of this community will separately approve these funds, adding a major new amenity which can be used by all the people of Port Washington.
A high school which has been expanded to meet the needs of our students in the next century. New lab space, new art and music space, improved handicapped access are all parts of our plan. We will have a new library/media center that will be accessible to the community as well as students and staff. Our tech ed. facilities are being revamped to replace courses which are no longer so attractive to our students with improved spaces for Computer Assisted Design, robotics and other 21st century technologies. Our alternative high school, which has provided a lifeline for students who might otherwise have failed to graduate, is being expanded to help even more students. Permanent facilities for this program will replace the collection of trailer and portable classrooms that are now its home. Last, but not least, an expanded cafeteria will provide a hospitable, comfortable place for our children to spend their lunch time.
This list, while not exhaustive, makes me feel good about our plan. When you think about all we are going to accomplish with our building program, it is not surprising that the price tag is high. And it is high. We will not be able to do all we want to do without spending over $85 million. That is a lot of money for this community or any community. Some say this plan is too ambitious, that we should start smaller. Unfortunately, that is the kind of thinking which has brought us to the situation we are in now. We are paying the price for years of thinking small, thinking short term. The plan we are proposing is not extravagant. It has no new buildings. It has no marble floors. All it has is the appropriate number of appropriate educational spaces to run the program we wish to deliver to our children. There is nothing to cut out of it which will not negatively impact our children. There is nothing in it which can be put off to another day. Everything it contains is urgently needed within the time period that construction will take if we start now.
If the community does not support this plan, what will happen? We will develop another plan. The next plan, however, will not have everything the children need. The next plan will take another year to implement while we throw good money after bad on temporary spaces, which solve the immediate need for classrooms while further overtaxing every other space in the buildings.
I have a final point to share with you. Over the past three years, as we have been developing our long range plan, we have also been implementing controls which were long missing in this school district. Port has a history of poorly implemented capital construction. It is my belief that this project will be the opposite of that sad history. In Larry Blake and his fine staff, we have a group of financial professionals who have procedures in place to ensure that money is spent carefully and well. In Eric Vonderhorst and his staff we have a fine group of Operations personnel who will ensure that construction is proper and complete. It is our intention to hire a construction management firm with expertise in exactly this type of project - the fundamental reconstruction of occupied school buildings. We will have in place, before we begin construction, a firm which knows exactly how to create a safe building site at an occupied school and has done so many times. This is the key to our success. The ability to build while our children are in the buildings so that the relocation and dislocation of students is minimized will be the cornerstone of this project. While I can assure you that there will be problems and glitches as we proceed, I fully expect that five years down the road we will all look back and be proud of what we accomplished for our children. I urge everyone in Port Washington to support this plan and help make this vision a reality.
Having been ill a week prior to the vote, Mrs. Cowles advised that she had not had time to prepare a written statement. However, she did say that she supported the statements made by her fellow board members who supported adoption of the facilities plan as proposed by the majority of the board members.
She did not, however, support putting the alternate high school at the administration building because she felt that the space was insufficient.
She also urged her fellow board members to carefully review what was being proposed and to find ways of reducing the cost without sacrificing the program.
Mr. Sussman did not have a prepared statement. In his off the cuff commentary he said that he believed the alternate plan was much better for the community.
He then spoke at length on a separate topic: the hiring of a construction firm. He criticized his fellow board members for what he described, in his view, is their belief that the hiring of a construction manager will eliminate problems with construction.
He said that the board should reconsider the process they're using to hire the managing firm. He claims that they're down to two finalists for the project but he has no backup for their proposals. According to him, "it's kind of stupid" to base his decision on a $90 million deal, with only five minutes of questions to the candidates.